Although much of his work has necessarily taken a back seat to the PLANiTULSA adoption process throughout the past several months, Jack Crowley is ready to put the spotlight back on his plan to revitalize downtown Tulsa.
Crowley, a professor in the University of Georgia's College of Environment and Design who spent two years in Tulsa serving as then-Mayor Kathy Taylor's special adviser on urban planning, finished his Downtown Area Master Plan late last year. The document was released to the public March 12, but it then was set aside while the city's comprehensive plan update went before the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission for approval.
With the PLANiTULSA document now apparently nearing final approval from the City Council, city officials will reintroduce the Crowley plan with a public forum set for 5:15pm Thursday, July 15 in the Event Center at Tulsa Community College's Center for Creativity, 910 S. Boston.
The forum is the first of several events that will be held during the summer and fall before the plan goes to the Planning Commission, the City Council and the Tulsa County Commission for approval.
"PLANiTULSA is being presented to the council, and once that overarching plan is done, this is the first small area plan," he said. "It's the first example of taking that plan and becoming much more specific."
Crowley said he was in Tulsa two weeks ago to go over the plan with Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. and his cabinet, as well as City Councilor Maria Barnes and other councilors. His trip this week will include a visit with county commissioners.
At the forum, Crowley said he will provide some background on the plan -- which is posted online at cityoftulsa.org/communityprograms/planning/downtown-master-plan.aspx -- and then go into its recommendations.
Before leaving Tulsa late last year and returning to Georgia, Crowley presented the plan to dozens of groups, so there is already a degree of familiarity with it on the part of many residents. But he said his presentation this week will include not just the plan document, but a corresponding "cookbook" -- a document that lays out how to implement many of the recommendations or possibilities in the plan.
"If you want to expand the convention center, here's how you do it," he said, describing one aspect of the cookbook. "If you want to convert the federal building into a hotel, if they decide to move, here's how you do that ... It takes the plan and breaks it into implementable pieces. You know, you take this building and add three potatoes and a pinch of salt."
Stephen Carr, the city's project coordinator and senior planner, said the plan has three major goals -- revitalizing downtown, connecting downtown to the Tulsa River Parks system, and initiating rail transit that will extend outward from downtown to the beginnings of future corridors that will serve the city and the region.
Crowley said his experience as a designer -- he is the former director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation -- has taught him that plans like his are often produced amid great hoopla, then set on a shelf to gather dust. But he said several elements of the plan already are being worked on.
"It calls for the reconstruction of the (Inner Dispersal Loop)," he said. "Half that is being done as we speak through the work on I-244."
That caused him to note with a chuckle, "I keep telling people if we wait too long, the plan will be implemented before we get it adopted," he said.
The most eye-catching portion of Crowley's plan is its call for a fixed-rail transit system that would originate in downtown, with one leg extending across the Arkansas River to 23rd and Jackson.
"It's going to be the toughest part of all," he said, referring to the project's $150 million price tag.
But when the city received a $40 million federal grant to aid in the reconstruction of the Interstate 244 bridge across the river -- a project that includes room for a rail line -- the fixed-rail transit system became much more viable, he said.
Much of the rest of the money needed to fund the system could be raised by leasing the land at the rail system terminals, he said.
"If you use the public land at both ends properly, the private sector will want to build there," he said. "They'll want to lease it, and that money goes toward your annual operating costs."
That would make the system much more financially sustainable, Crowley said, freeing it from relying solely on fares.
But coming up with the money to pay for the system won't be the only hurdle, he acknowledged.
"There's a lot of resistance to starting these things," he said. "There are a lot of people really opposed to this. There are advocacy groups that don't want you to have alternatives."
Crowley said he was looking forward to returning to Tulsa and reminding people of what his plan entails.
"I hope I can stay engaged after it gets adopted," he said. "The transit system isn't going to happen unless somebody is pushing it and we're strategic about getting it done."
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